Scott Pruitt, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, has canceled his trip to Israel amid backlash over travel expenses.
News of the canceled trip comes a week after The Washington Post published an article on Pruitt’s expensive travel habits. According to the report, Pruitt regularly flies first or business class, costing the American taxpayer thousands of dollars more than coach seats.
Previously, the EPA claimed Pruitt had received a “blanket waiver” to fly first class when he traveled. POLITICO pointed out in a report that federal travel rules bar such arrangements.
“First class tickets were $577 more on average than coach in 2015,” states Click Travel Tips.
The General Services Administration says federal rules require oversight staffers to sign off on first or business class travel on a “trip-by-trip” basis unless “the traveler has an up-to-date documented disability or special need.”
An EPA spokesman said anyone who is seeking more details on Pruitt’s travels will have to submit a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act. Such a request could take months or years to process.
Pruitt was scheduled to arrive in Israel on Sunday. The reason for his visit was to learn about the country’s sustainability efforts in Haifa.
“We decided to postpone; the administrator looks forward to going in the future,” said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman in an email to the Huffington Post. Bowman did not provide details on why the trip was canceled.
The Environmental Integrity Project obtained EPA receipts through the Freedom of Information Act requests that showed Pruitt and his staff racked up more than $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel expenses in the month of June alone.
Records show that Pruitt spent $1,641 on a flight from D.C. to New York City and back. That route typically costs less than $250 even when booking a last-minute flight.
It is believed that Pruitt may also have an armed agent who flies with him in first class, but the EPA excluded some of its travel records in its disclosure.
In previous administrations, top EPA officials flew coach, and ethics officials only permitted first-class trips in special cases.
Pruitt is being investigated by the EPA’s inspector general for his use of private and military flights. The investigation was prompted by a report for the Post that showed the administrator took four such flights, which cost taxpayers over $58,000.
It has been argued that Pruitt flies first or business class to avoid meeting critics at the airport and on the airplane. The EPA’s Office of Inspector General said last fall that Pruitt received up to five times as many threats as his predecessor, McCarthy.
It is unclear how many of those threats were credible.
Flying first class gives officials access to lounges where there are fewer passengers waiting to board the plane. But former EPA staffer say many airports ask high-level officials to disembark directly to their vehicles instead of walking through the terminal. Armed guards and the officials they’re protecting normally board planes first.
Pruitt isn’t the only official to come under scrutiny over travel expenses. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin have all been scrutinized over their travel expenses.